updates: I’m sick of being the office printer lady, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. I’m sick of being the office printer lady

After my letter was published, I began incorporating your suggestions as well as the readers’ on how to disestablish myself as “Jane the Office Printer Lady.” The script I most frequently used when my colleagues would ask me for help is, “I’m in the middle of something, but there are helpful directions on the screen that tell you how to fix the issue.” That script ended up being more effective than I anticipated, and to my surprise, I didn’t get much push back. Not only did I get less and less printer questions over time, but I think by gently telling my coworkers that there were directions on the printer screen to help them, they ended up becoming more efficient using the printer and thus had less questions to ask.

In addition, about a month or so after my question was published, we had a gentleman from the printer company come to our office and update the printer. I’m not sure what the update entailed, but it seems like the printer does not show as many error messages as it once did.

Thank you, Alison, and all the readers for all of your helpful suggestions. As a young female only a few years out of college, I had soon established myself as a “yes woman” at work. I once felt like I had to commit to any and all requests from my colleagues and supervisors, even when they were requests that didn’t make sense for me to handle. I’m finally realizing that it’s okay to say no sometimes, without coming across as having poor work ethics. I can both stand my ground, and still be a great employee. :)

2. Is a promotion always good news?

You answered my question WAY back in 2013 about a promotion that I received early in my career, and which should have included some managerial tasks. You and others gave great advice on how to handle the situation. Unfortunately, the company totally screwed me over! Shortly after I emailed you, my manager told me to keep the promotion a secret from everyone so that they could assess my performance in the new role over the next six or so months. If it worked out, then I would get a raise and the promotion would be revealed to the staff. I was disappointed because they still expected me to assume all of the extra responsibility and workload, but I thought that maybe this was normal as the promotion was a stretch and I was still new to the industry.

I proceeded to work my butt off to cover projects for my manager, to learn all I could about management, and to try and get my team to do what I needed them to do … without them having any knowledge that I had any authority to ask them to do anything. The “secret promotion” was a tough and confusing time for everyone involved. Five months into this weird probation period, my manager threw me under the bus to take the fall for something that she herself had failed to do. Of course, this resulted in upper management pulling the promotion from me … two days before my wedding day.

I was upset because I actually hadn’t done anything wrong, but I took the fall with the understanding that what I had sacrificed would ultimately be given back to me at some point along the way. However, a few months later, my manager went on a burnout leave for an entire year and left the industry completely. I had to pick up a lot of the slack for the department and saved a number of projects from crashing and burning, but this had the sad result in the company simply folding those tasks into my everyday job (no raise, no promotion, but a huge uptick in work, stress, and overtime). My confidence was shattered and I stayed there for 4 more years because I didn’t think I was good enough to succeed anywhere else. I only quit when the company restructured and I was AGAIN offered a promotion which they AGAIN yanked within a few months. Once bitten, twice shy!

I have worked in two other companies since then, and although neither situation has been perfect, my confidence in my own abilities has been restored. I’m just happy that enough time has passed for me to be able to reflect on the “secret promotion” with laughter!

Thank you very much again for answering my questions back in the day, and for all of the invaluable wisdom shared on AAM over the years. I have remained a dedicated reader and have used your advice many times to successfully navigate the confusing maze of the modern day workplace.

3. Can I wait to give notice at my job(#3 at the link)

Thank you for printing my letter and I appreciate everyone’s comments. My update is that I did resign with two weeks notice (my employer has pushed everyone out the first week of their notice period) and amazingly this did not go over well. I had not reviewed my contract before resigning and it says that I need to give them 60 days notice! Because my job is unique, they are now trying to hold me to that! I will be having a larger conversation with them about this after the holidays but for the sake of my own mental health (and my offer from another company) I don’t want to delay my other job! I probably have to consult a lawyer as my boss is known to be vindictive. Not sure if any commenters have experience with this.

4. How can I make myself look less qualified? (#2 at the link)

I did eventually get a part-time retail job, not the admin job with regular hours I was hoping for. I told the managers from the beginning that I was looking to fill gaps, but that approach ended up not being very practical. My freelance editing schedule filled up just then, and combined with some pre-scheduled travel, I went a couple months without any hours scheduled to work. I talked it over with the manager, and we agreed that it wasn’t workable for either of us. I took that full schedule as a sign that my freelancing prospects were looking up and have stopped job hunting. I could still use some more editing clients, and if anyone has any suggestions on that front (I’m a terrible marketer and self-promoter), I’d love to hear them. But for now, I’m enjoying not being too busy, and the bank account is…well, it’s surviving.

Sometimes I miss being part of a work group, having conversations with people, instead of sitting in my basement office editing in solitude, but then I run off in the middle of the day to see a movie, and I don’t mind so much.

So, I didn’t really use your advice, but it’s OK.

5. Someone spends an hour a day putting on makeup in our shared bathroom

The advice was really helpful and it was good to know I wasn’t being ridiculous.

It turned out, I wound up not needing to do anything, though. Make-up Girl has vanished from my life. Not sure if she got fired or if someone had a talk with her, but at least she’s not a problem anymore.

Thank you all for the help! I’ll keep your tips in mind for the future, while hoping I never need to use it. ;) Thanks again!

Update to the update:

I have seen this girl a couple times, so I know she still works there. Maybe they spoke to her, because I haven’t seen makeup in the bathroom. Regardless, our office moved downtown into a new building and now we have our own private bathroom!

{ 155 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    OP#3– Sorry to hear about your crappy workplace continuing to be crappy and vindictive. Are you outside the US? Because it seems unusual to have a contract in the US and more odd to have a 60-day notice period required (especially if they turn around and fire people 1 week into that notice period). And if you’re in the US in an at-will employment state (which is most all of them), then it’s pretty unlikely they can hold you to that. (But I’m not a lawyer, so your mileage may vary.)

    IMO, You have no loyalty to the OldJob. Unless they have some kind of huge financial penalty for you, I’d drop them like a ton of bricks and go enjoy NewJob. It’s not like they can FORCE you to show up for the extra 6 weeks…if you just stop coming in, then you’re just done.

    1. Chriama*

      I agree that this is something worth consulting a lawyer about before checking back in with your employer. If they have a history of not letting people work out their notice (and not paying them for that time) it seems unreasonable to me to demand such a long notice period. And if they’ve made a habit of doing that with other employees I feel like they can’t just turn around and say “but we wanted the full notice period this time”. I think checking with a lawyer so you know your rights and expectations is a good idea. We know your employer is unlikely to have your best interests in mind so you can’t exactly count on what they say regarding your legal obligations.

      1. MK*

        Eh, I don’t see anything particularly odd with treating different employees who resign at different times differently as regards the notice period. Coming from a country where longer notices are the norm (in many cases legally mandated), it seems perfectly reasonable to me that the company will assess whether to hold the employee to the whole notice period, depending on their bussiness needs, how necessary the role is for their operation, whether it’a a busy time or not, etc.

        1. snowglobe*

          It would be expected that if the contract said that the employee is required to give 60 days notice, then the employer would be required to pay the employee for 60 days, even if they are asked to leave earlier. Requiring 60 days notice with the possibility that the employee could be fired (with no more pay) after 5 days is unreasonable, and in many places such contract terms might not be enforceable (particularly when the contract favors the party that wrote it).

          1. Chriama*

            That was my point. The employee is at huge risk if they give the requested notice, and the employer has a history of making employees bear that risk out. I feel like there’s no consideration being given for that notice period demand. “You get to keep your job” wouldn’t quite apply because they have a habit of terminating employment early.

        2. Chriama*

          My point is that the company is trying to hold OP to a contractual obligation, citing a need. But in the past they’ve forgone that need and asked employees to leave immediately. And OP mentions they can’t afford to be unemployed for 2 months, so it’s clear the employer is not paying out the notice period. That’s a pretty big burden to place on an employee. “We require 2 months’ notice but reserve the right to cancel it and not pay you” is a little disingenuous. So it’s possible they’ve given up the right to claim that as a business need. I’m not a lawyer, which is why I suggest OP consult one to make sure they know their rights.

          1. MK*

            If the contract stipulates a long notice period, they don’t have to cite a need; it’s a contractual obligation. Also, a bussiness need for long notice is not a standard across roles, levels of seniority and timing, it depends on individual circumstances. For example, when I worked at a law practice, if an admin wanted to leave in the middle of July, the firm wouldn’t raise an issue, because workload is light in July and September and minimal in August, and the hiring process usually short. But if a lawyer quit in mid-November (one of the bussiest times for courts), they would be held to their notice period.

            I understand why it feels unreasonable to pick and choose when to enforce a contractual obligation and, yes, there might be revenge motives behind it. But, unless we are talking about illegal disrimination, no one is obligated to do so uniformly.

          2. WellRed*

            The lw says her position us unique. We don’t know that others have similar contracts with 60 day notice periods like hers.

          3. Khaleesi Esq.*

            Contract law is pretty tight and ruthless. In the press we can see, for example: entertainers who cannot get out of contracts to deliver several more albums; college athletes who cannot transfer to another university if they signed contracts and the coach refuses to let them compete, etc.

            1. CynicallySweet*

              I’m wondering if exceptions are every made depending on the environment though. If the environment could be deemed abusive, would it be possible/easier to get out of a contract?

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                Only if they had a clause allowing it…

                Seriously don’t ever sign a contract without reading it and if you don’t understand if, lawyer-up.

                The whole point is distribution of power for a set period of time.

              2. MK*

                It’s not totally impossible, just as it is not impossible to void contracts or terms that favour one party disproportionatelly, as was suggested above. But the bar is much higher than I think most people realise; they hear of cases where exceptions were made or terms decreed unenforceable and they get the impression that it is something that is done all the time. In fact, it’s exceptions that happen rarely and under extreme circumstances.

            2. PVR*

              OP definitely consult a lawyer! I once walked out on a job (long story) but had signed a contract requiring me to give 4 weeks notice. I immediately called a lawyer and was told that in the US we don’t have indentured servitude so they could not make me work out that time period but they could sue for damages. The contract did not specify damages and due to the nature of my position, there really weren’t damages to sue for. Also that contract was unenforceable for other reasons and I was in an at-will state. So for my specific situation, quitting without notice was fine legally, but your situation may differ. An employment lawyer in your area will be your best resource!

    2. Lila Fowler*

      #3 get thee to an employment lawyer with experience in your industry and state. I work in an industry where there is very common and only once questioned it – my lawyer advised these requirements are more enforceable in some states than others.

    3. misspiggy*

      In the U.K., where I work and where contracts with long notice periods are common, I’ve never known an employer take legal action to enforce notice if someone leaves early. It’s just not worth the cost. It would mean you can’t expext a good reference, but that’s it.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Threatening to take legal action is a thing though.
        Hubby worked for a complete tool, with an employment contract that stated notice given must be “one week per full year of employment”. (Note, this was employee notice to quit, not company notice – company notice was Alan Sugar-style “you’re fired” zero notice).
        This possibly made sense because company owner was (and still is) a complete *redacted* and staff turnover was incredibly high. It was rare that anyone had to give more than two or three weeks notice (one week was by far the norm).
        Hubby, however, actually had a decent tenure, and was threatened with legal action when he gave just one month’s notice. Boss highlighted the employment contract line and demanded he work his nearly 4 months notice – HR (in a rare show of support – whole other story there) pointed out that this was unenforceable – had hubby conceded, it would have effectively prevented hubby from ever getting another job while still employed there. Boss was a vindictive *redacted* and had the attitude of “you work for me or you end up on the dole, so be grateful you have a job and don’t dare demand anything other than minimum wage, which I will begrudge you every penny and look for as many ways as possible to penalise you”.

        1. Artemesia*

          And note that in the US there is no ‘dole’. There is no welfare beyond food stamps for able bodied adults and if you are not able bodied, it is still hard to get social security disability and certainly not quickly.

    4. Spreadsheets and Books*

      In some states, leaving without notice is fine and can’t result in legal charges, but it can lead to not getting vacation time or other benefits paid out. Per New York State law, for example, “Whether an employer must pay for unused time depends upon the terms of the vacation and/or resignation policy. New York courts have held that an agreement to give benefits or wage supplements, like vacation, can specify that employees lose accrued benefits under certain conditions.” My company has a list of notice times for each level within the company that must be satisfied to get vacation paid out. This is a really casual company and I’ve seen people give far less notice and still get vacation paid upon departure, but their policies could be more down the lines of trying to force adequate notice in exchange for financial benefits.

    5. Emily K*

      Yes, please be sure you had an actual contract and your employer isn’t trying to convince you that because you signed an acknowledgment of an employee handbook that you are contractually bound by it. Most courts would disagree with that, so if you don’t have an actual, personal-to-you contract, I would either contact an employment attorney or make noise about your intention to do so (which may get them to back off without actually needing to involve a lawyer).

  2. Temperance*

    LW2: I had a similar situation at my first job out of college. I was told what I needed to do to get promoted, and that was to do the higher level work for at least 6 months. Of course, when a promotion did come up, it went to someone else, who had not been working for cheap like a chump.

  3. buttrue???*

    #5 _ I suspect that make-up Girl had a conversation with her manager about her work output. Unless her hours didn’t start till 10:30 she was “stealing” an hour of her employer’s time and money.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      I don’t like the premise that being unproductive so week is stealing. It’s not. Just it’s not theft to work outside of office hours occasionally.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        The latter depends on the classifcation. If someone is hourly and working off the clock, or someone is non-exempt and working more than 40 hours a week without overtime, it’s definitely illegal, although I’m not sure exactly what the classification of the crime is.

        1. Mary Connell*

          This has to do with the difference between criminal law and civil law.

          Criminal law is things like murder or manslaughter, theft, drunk driving.

          Civil law is things like contracts, inheritance, family law, copyright, and employment law.

          Police may become involved in criminal cases and violating criminal laws. Violations may result in prison or other punishments.

          Violations of civil law do not involve police (generally speaking) and are not generally classed as crime or spoken about using the term “illegal.” They may result in a lawsuit or action in a civil court. Not to get political in any way since this is a technical point, but immigration law is a subject of confusion in American society and a good illustration of the difference between the two kinds of law. Immigration law is civil law. The applicable government action is deportation, a civil remedy. Calling someone an “illegal alien” is a colloquialism but technically incorrect because immigration law is civil law. Courts tend to look dimly on the criminalization of immigration law because it has always been civil law, handled in immigration courts.

          Not following the terms or expectations of employment may be a violation of a contract or of employment law (or it may not), but the remedies would be in civil court and police would not be involved. Hence, “wage theft,” although a colloquialism like “illegal alien,” is a misnomer, and there is no crime involved. The second the employee started taking money from the cash register would be the second criminal law was involved. Only at that point could one correctly use terms like “illegal” and “crime.”

          1. Mary Connell*

            Quick correction to the final paragraph: remedies for violations of employment law would not only include actions in civil court, but also remedies like an employer firing an employee, or the involvement of a government agency such as an equal employment commission.

          2. Holly*

            To clarify, it’s not a “crime,” as in a criminal violation, but it is commonly called time theft.

            1. Emily K*

              Yes – and the point being made is that it’s a colloquialism meant to cast non-criminals in a criminal light, and that has real negative consequences for people.

              An unproductive employee is bad at their job. They are not stealing. We can call them bad at their job without verbally escalating it to criminal comparisons.

              1. Autumnheart*

                Using a slightly different example, I have work that I could technically do right now, but it’s not due until next week and is a same-day kind of project. If I decide to sit on the project today and read AAM instead, am I stealing? Idle time is part of the work rhythm in a lot of jobs.

                But that doesn’t mean “So go hog a bathroom for an hour and make it difficult for other people to use the facilities”. There’s room for a legitimate complaint without clock-watching the employee and insisting that every minute be productive or else. Especially if it’s not a quota-based job.

      2. Mommy MD*

        Time card fraud applies. And working outside of hours in some states without pay is illegal. Both fireable offenses with some employers.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          I was referring to exempt employees but I stand by my comment that being unproductive some at work is not theft.

          That’s very different then say, arriving at 10 and claiming you came in at 8 which I agree is stealing.

          1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

            Opting to physically not be at your desk for a full hour every day is a little more than being unproductive, though.

            1. AKchic*

              Not only not being at her desk, but in a bathroom.

              Being in a bathroom for an hour-long stretch is effectively “unavailable” to the majority of people because the majority of people assume that if you are in the bathroom, you are busy with personal ablutions and should not be disturbed. Applying make-up is not the same as sitting on a toilet with pants around the knees, but is still along the same general lines of “personal time and should not be disturbed since they are in the bathroom and have signaled they’d like privacy”. Bathroom generally means “I need privacy”.
              So, if she is away from her desk for private time for an hour, that is an hour she isn’t available for work, and if the employer is paying her for it, the employer has every right to be upset, and has every right to consider it wage theft. I think I did the math on it in the original post, but if this employee was making $15/hr (I am guessing) that is $75 a week the employer is paying for this person to apply make-up. $300 a month. Right around $15,000 a year (I will drop the $600/yr as an estimated vacation, sick and holiday absences). That’s a lot of money to pay a person to apply make-up in a bathroom when they should be available for work, whether it is to answer phones, reply to emails, meet with coworkers, or just being a butt in a seat.

          2. CheeryO*

            Eh, if you moved half of your morning routine from home to the work bathroom so you could say you arrived an hour earlier and therefore leave an hour earlier, isn’t that bordering on time card fraud? If you’re standing around chatting or drinking coffee and staring into space at your desk, you’re at least available if anyone needs you. (I’m thinking of exempt employees who still work 40 hours per week on a regular schedule.)

          3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            I’d think that expecting to get paid for doing your makeup is a bit more serious than merely being unproductive. It’s not even pretending to work.

          4. Jadelyn*

            If you’re talking about “unproductive” as in “my brain is scattered so instead of doing this major project where I might make mistakes, I’m fiddling around with filing and other nonessential small stuff for an hour or two”, or “I’m not pushing myself to work as fast as I possibly can right now because I’m tired and have had a rough week”, then no, that’s ridiculous to call it wage theft. But showing up, clocking in, then physically absenting yourself from your workstation in such a way that people can’t even come talk to you because you’re *in the bathroom* for an hour or more? Yeah, sorry, that does become a form of wage theft.

            (Generally speaking, I agree that the term “wage theft” gets wildly misapplied and overused to describe EEs “stealing” from ERs, rather than the way it usually actually happens which is the other way around – by not paying overtime, etc. – but this is one of those rare cases where I do think the term applies.)

      3. Allison*

        I agree, I don’t like it either. I’m salaried, and paid on the presumption that I work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, but does that mean I have to work steadily for 8+ hours every day? I can’t take time to walk around and stretch my legs, go to the bathroom, or get a snack? I can’t browse AAM on slow days? What am I supposed to do when my workload hits a lull, as it always does around this time of year? Do I have to take vacation time then? What if I’m saving those days for upcoming trips?

        I do my work in the time I am expected to do it, my bosses are satisfied with the quality of my work and the overall value I add to the team (and it has been quantified). Now, if I was very busy with various projects, and I wasn’t turning things around fast enough because I was spending an hour a day putting on makeup (and hogging the bathroom in doing so) that’s definitely a cause for concern, but I don’t think any reasonable person would call it stealing.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I think it is quite a stretch to conflate taking an hour to do makeup on the clock with the kind of normal short breaks you are describing. Getting a snack or a bathroom break is very different from taking over half the bathroom to do an elaborate makeup routine for an hour every morning.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, I’ve always wondered about the exempt employees who somehow manage to look busy every minute of every workday. When do they think about what they are working on? I have come up with my best ideas for work projects while on walks around the office campus. I’d think of a solution on a 15-minute walk that I would not have been able to create in my head while sitting at my desk staring at a monitor with something work-like on it, and banging on the keyboard productively. I am always accessible on my cell phone, but come on, at the end of the day, we don’t get paid for having our butt in a chair for an X number of consecutive hours, but for producing things. Butt in chair adds no value to the company. (I am of, course, not talking about customer-facing positions where we *have* to be in that chair and physically available to customers.)

          That said, I doubt that Makeup Lady was using that hour every day for work-related inspiration, *and* she was blocking people from using the bathroom sinks, so I am okay with her management raining hellfire on her in this case.

          Also: What am I supposed to do when my workload hits a lull, as it always does around this time of year? I use that time for personal training, to read manuals, online books etc for my line of work.

        3. Autumnheart*

          If she were at the company gym for an hour because she didn’t have any meetings from 10-11, would it be the same argument?

          If someone’s getting their work done and not holding anyone else up for getting their respective work done, what does it matter if they’re not physically at their desk? It’s 2018. Text them, IM them, send them an email. The idea that someone has to be butt-in-seat in order to be productive is straight out of the 19th century.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            If she’s hourly then I would not expect her to be on the clock for that time. If I were a colleague who was at my desk working while she was in the gym, and I found out she was getting paid to do that, I’d be pretty upset.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Also possible she comes in at dark-thirty am and works out & redesign her makeup after that on her lunch hour…but it’s still rude to commandeer that much space.

  4. Phoenix Programmer*

    #1 I am so glad that worked out for you! It’s very easy for helpful people to fall in this trap.

    One thing I do is gauge the value of something before saying yes. If something ads value or revenue and is visible do it! If not think hard about saying yes.

    1. CynicallySweet*

      Honestly figuring out how to say no and push back on things has been a game changer for me. Unfortunately I didn’t start doing it until I was drowning. The first time was actually a kind of accident. My boss asked if I had time to work on something and I had my head in something else, didn’t even realize I said “no”. Really happy it wasn’t a big deal at all, other than commenting that it’s the first time I’d said that my boss was totally fine w/ it. Even just knowing I have that ability is a huge relief

      1. Jadelyn*

        Same! Heck, my previous boss actively worked with me on getting me to be comfortable saying “no” to things – I tend to be a people-pleaser/”rockstar” type at work, so I’d say yes to all kinds of things, and wind up overloaded and stressed. We had a number of coaching discussions, both formal and informal, about feeling confident in having the right to push back on requests and manage expectations, so both “I really don’t have time for that right now, sorry!” and “I can work on that, but I’ve got a number of other high-priority projects on my plate right now, so it’ll be on the back burner for a month or two at least – if that’s okay, I’ll put it on the list, but if you need it sooner I can’t help you.”

        It helped that she demonstrated, repeatedly, that she was 110% willing to back me up if someone got upset about being told “no” – she even hung up on her boss, my grandboss, once when he was flipped out and started yelling at her about me not being able to get something to him on a super-tight turnaround once. If you’ve got a boss who supports you like that, it makes learning to say “no” a lot easier – and then by the time you’re maybe not with that boss anymore and have to hold your line alone, you’ll have built the skill up so you’re capable of doing that.

  5. Snowberry Kitten Foster, Inc.*

    #1 My advice for your original issue would just help. Be a team player. People really appreciate the 2 seconds it takes for you to help them. When I was working in an Nursery Intensive Care Unit as an RN, we all helped each other out every day even if it wasnt “our job”. We worked great as a team.

    1. Chriama*

      Being a team player when it prevents her from doing the work she was actually hired to do is a bad idea. It also has the potential to harm her professionally, as a junior woman who gets defaulted with admin duties that are outside the scope of her job. Finally, asking her coworkers to actually read the error messages themselves empowered them to fix issues on their own. Much better for them in the long run. What if one day they’re on a deadline and OP can’t help? They’re adults and it’s not an unusual or highly skilled task. They might as well learn how to do it. I think she had a great resolution and I would not give her the advice you did.

    2. Karyn*

      She was asked about things such as ‘paper jam’ and ‘add paper to Tray 3’. Her colleagues were perfectly capable of doing it themselves. It was not a case of pitching in during a deadline scramble.

      1. Jen*

        As someone who has worked in administrative or grunt jobs before, it is easy to become the fallback. Yes I know how to unjam the printer, but I learned from reading the error messages (and sometimes it just means taking the time to pull scraps of paper out). Yes, I know how to clean a microwave more effectively, but I am not your maid and it is not my job. And so on and so on. Those of us who had crappy minimum wage jobs as teens and young adults Don’t deserve to be turned into “the help” because we know how to do those things.

      2. OG Karyn*

        Agreed wholeheartedly. People can also be “team players” by doing things for themselves when they are able to, thus keeping the team functioning. This isn’t a case of someone being frustrated with the printer giving them a weird non-descriptive error and OP stepping in to help since they’re nearby. This is people not wanting to load their own paper.

        Hey! Another Karyn! Just wanted to make clear that I’ve been using that as my “name” here for a while, but to avoid confusion, I’m gonna start going by “OG Karyn.” :) nice to meet another person who constantly has to spell our name for people.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Being a team player so that no one else on your team has to be a team player is a losing proposition.

          Eventually the team player burns out and leaves, and then the other people figure out that if the printer won’t work and Jane is gone… hmm…. okay, it says here “Put paper in tray 3” and there’s a little diagram, so if I … hey, tray 3 has instructions too! … Okay, paper in, close door, hit “start”—look at that, I did it!” Rather than muse on how nothing works since Jane left and they regret not valuing her more and are Sorry Now.

          Snowberry is describing a situation where it helps if everyone on the crew is an equal team player, which is true but quite different from OP’s.

      3. Antilles*

        Exactly. I was in OP’s exact situation for a couple months at my first office job before I got sick of it. Here is the entire total and sum of my knowledge about fixing printers:
        1.) Read the error message that pops up
        2.) Do exactly what it says
        3.) Cross fingers that error message disappears. Repeat 1 and 2 until it works.
        That is the exact same process that literally anybody over the age of eight could do. Someone walking to my office and asking me to do it makes the entire process dramatically less efficient – it takes longer for them (additional time spent asking me) AND it turns a one-man job into a two-man job where I’m doing the work and that person is uselessly staring at the wall AND it drags me away from whatever else I was originally doing.
        A nursing analogy would be this: I see a patient in need of assistance. Rather than helping the patient myself, I ask another nurse to come in and do the work…not so that I can run and help someone else, but just so that I can stand by the door watching.

        1. Jerusha*

          Ah, yes, the sequence outlined so nicely in XKCD’s Tech Support Cheat Sheet (link from my name). It’s amazing how many people think that it’s rocket science…

          1. Jerusha*

            If you’re not familiar with XKCD, be sure you hover your mouse over the image – he’s always got an extension of the joke in the mouseover text. (If you’re on a mobile device, or otherwise having problems with mousing over, the link in /this/ username is to the mobile version of the page. If you select “Alt Text” next to the title of the image (on my display, at the bottom of the screen), the alt text will be displayed.

            1. raktajino*

              And if you don’t get the joke with an XKCD comic, there’s a website devoted to explaining XKCD! Link in MY username.

              (ok that’s probably the limit to which we can nest XKCD link jokes.)

              Jerusha, this comic was excellent. I just sent it to a coworker who has been dealing with a team full of #1’s coworkers. I should also send her Alison’s original post, though I don’t know how much it will apply to her situation.

          2. Jadelyn*

            One of my favorites! I showed it to my boss once when he was joking that I should be in IT because I fixed an issue he was having on his machine – like, yeah, I’m good with computers, but it’s not always because I know exactly how to fix the thing. A lot of the time it’s just trial-and-error. And google. Lots of google.

            1. Jerusha*

              No, actually. I picked it up years ago from the works of Katherine Kurtz. I had somehow missed Superstore; I may give it a peek at some point.

      4. Allison*

        Right. No one wants to be pigeonholed into a “helper” role on the team, especially for tasks that anyone can figure out themselves if they just. Used. Their. Dang. Brains. I get feeling intimidated by unfamiliar equipment or technology, but you take a deep breath and you work through the problem. I’m kind of “over” people (especially men) who’d rather ask the nearest young lady for information than take a minute to find the answer themselves. You’re not that busy.

        Also, there’s a huge difference between nurses taking on each other’s grunt work to ensure patient safety and help keep people alive, and young women in an office setting (where no lives are at stake) being heavily relied upon to perpetuate their peers’ learned helplessness.

          1. Camellia*

            I saw this in action just the other day! In a meeting with another team, consisting of four men and one woman, and they were discussing having a team lunch. Once the team agreed they wanted to do that, the lead turned to the woman and told her to figure out a restaurant and make the reservations. She just quietly said no, I’m not going to do that. It was awesome! After a couple of eye blinks, one of the men said they would do it, so good on them too.

            1. jolene*

              I used to volunteer at a charity where part of the requirements were to get a meal down the clients before working with them. I quickly started advising the organiser not to take on male volunteers as helping with food was utterly beneath them.
              One to me: “Can you get me some forks?”
              Me, with a bright smile: “They’re in the drawer over there.”
              I swear he stood there for a good two minutes before realising I wasn’t going to get them for him.

        1. Emily K*

          Yes, and it’s really irritating that when a doormat attempts to speak up for themselves and say, “I’m not your personal assistant,” they get chided for being more concerned with status and advancement than “taking one for the team” and doing what the business needs. As if it’s some great sin to want to advance in one’s career.

          Funny how it’s always the people whose advancement has never been stymied who level this accusation at people who don’t want to do their grunt work.

          1. Allison*

            I always worry that if I say something like “I’m not your assistant,” “I’m not an admin,” or “I’m not your secretary,” not only will I look like a jerk who’s “not a team player,” I may also sound like I view the actual admins and assistants as beneath me – which, y’know, isn’t good especially when I work next to some of them. I do value the work these people do, I’m just not in that kind of role, I don’t know how to do a lot of that work, my job doesn’t really have me in “helper mode” most of the time as though I were an admin, and I’m just not interested in that line of work so I don’t want to be pushed into a role like that.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Same – especially as I *was* an admin, and now I’m not, and I value my replacement who is worth her weight in gold and I don’t want to disparage what she does for the team…but I also am not supposed to be responsible for that stuff anymore.

              I usually just direct them over to her – “I don’t handle that anymore, but you can talk to Lily, she’s doing that now.” If I didn’t have anyone to direct them to though, I’m not sure how I’d handle it.

              1. Legal Beagle*

                I think it’s fine to say “I don’t handle that [anymore]” and leave it at that. You can even preface it with a “Sorry!” if you want to soften the message. If there isn’t a designated person who helps with the issue, I like to add a resource suggestion, i.e. “You might want to try calling IT/looking for a YouTube tutorial/checking the error message. That’s what I usually do!”

    3. angeldrac*

      As a fellow RN, I’m hearing what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s quite similar to what you are thinking.
      Eg: In an ICU, my colleague is caught up with one patient when another patient’s IV pump starts pinging. I go and fix it and let my colleague know (if they need to know).
      What is happening in OP’s situation is the equivalent of me standing at a pinging IV pump asking my colleague to come and help whilst looking at the screen which is clearly stating “occulusion down line” without actually attempting to follow the directions to fix it. Obviously my doing that is going to annoy everyone after a bit.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        This this this. I was actually thinking of an IV pump example when I scrolled down and saw your message! Perfect analogy.

    4. Yvette*

      But this is different, no one’s health is at stake. They were asking her to do simple things that that they did not want to and could not be bothered to do for themselves at the expense of getting her own work done. I would love to be able to foist all the simple, yet annoying parts of my job off on someone else but it doesn’t mean I should or that they should do them in the spirit of teamwork.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        The LW’s situation is closer to seeing someone else in the kitchen, and saying “you know where things go in the cabinets better than I do, could you put my dishes away?”

    5. A lurker writes*


      This isn’t about whether the OP is a team player or not.

      Angeldrac has provided a great analogy in their response to you, but I’m also going to quote Alison’s original response:
      “It might only be 30 seconds, but it’s presumably interrupting your focus on other things — and even if it’s not, it’s just not reasonable for people to think they can turn to you for basic tasks that are no more yours than theirs (and in fact are theirs).”

      And no, people didn’t “appreciate” the help, they just didn’t bother to read what was in front of them on the screen.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I was a victim of the “Cudjas” for far too long (cudja-just, in case anyone was wondering). And the problem was always the fact that it was “just 30 seconds”. So, one week, out of sheer devilment (and to prove a point), I took 5 extra seconds to log each 30 second interruption.
        Correcting for the logging time, it turned out that I was actually spending almost 90 minutes a week on Cudjas. And because I still needed to get my day job done as well, what was actually happening was I ended up working through two lunchtimes, just to do what should have been addressed by the original Cudja just reading the instructions.
        Good on you OP1 – glad you had the outcome you needed to ensure your office is efficient, not at the expense of your personal efficiency.

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            Yes, I shared with my boss and one other co-worker (who was suffering similar issues).
            Positive result though, similar to OPs – the system was updated, and new, clearer, more accessible instructions were provided. I still get Cudjas, but these have been one-off deliberate “glitches” caused by the Tech team trying to work out what our third party support did that caused every screen to go yellow with white font FFS! Since I have a brilliant working relationship with the Tech team, I take these in my stride (for full disclosure and comparison, it’s less than one Cudja a fortnight – far more managable)

    6. Green great dragon*

      The key statement here is ‘we helped each other’. Not ‘we got one person to do this every time irrespective of whether she was best placed to do it’.

    7. Mookie*

      Being a team player is assisting people to acquire independence in completing daily tasks they ought to master. The LW did this, both by actively assisting the first few rounds and now by pointing out a great resource (the printer instructions). Wasting another colleague’s working hours over and over on banal paper-shuffling that doesn’t require more than one set of hands is thoughtless and not being a team player at all. Doing your own assignments, in this office, entails using simple office equipment without endless hand-holding. If something’s faulty, alert the office manager, IT, or maintenance.

    8. Ginger ale for all*

      I disagree Snowberry. Helping people who won’t at least see what they can do on their own first just cripples both them and you. The askers are already standing in front of the printer and seeing the load paper message (or whatever it says) and you are okay with them asking for help with that?

      1. Jen*

        I am a trainer and had to encounter this both in training and with colleagues who use me as a stopgap rather than doing their own work. Yes, I know the answer to your question off the top of my head. But my job isn’t to be an answer machine, it is to produce independent workers. If I am doing your job for you, neither of us is doing what they are supposed to.

        1. Ellex*

          I just went through this with a new coworker. Because I was sitting closest to her, I ended up doing the majority of her training. But we have wonderful step-by-step instructions and guides for the majority of our work, and once someone grasps the basics, they should only need help for the occasional unusual situation. But this new coworker was constantly asking me questions that she could – and should – have been able to figure out for herself, using those handy-dandy guides.

          I wasn’t surprised or unhappy when she abruptly quit over another issue. It was nice to be able to get back to my own work without being interrupted every 15-20 minutes!

          1. Emily K*

            I’m about at the end of my rope with a no-longer-new colleague who is still needing just as much hand-holding 14 months in as they did in their first month. They make no attempt to find any solutions on their own, and ask variations on the same question repeatedly without ever absorbing the previous answers they’ve been given and applying them in new situations.

            “What is the billing code for llamas?”
            “I’m attaching the latest list of billing codes, which you can save to your hard drive for offline reference, and you can also always find the latest version on the company intranet at internal.company.com/billingcodes.”

            A few weeks later:
            “Hey, what is the billing code for alpacas?”
            [I forward previous email with note at the top:] “Please see below for instructions on looking up billing codes.”

            A few weeks later:
            “Is 12345 the correct billing code for goats?”
            [I rip fistfuls of hair from my own scalp while screaming internally] “Goats should be listed in the master list of codes. Please consult the official documentation rather than relying on me to provide billing codes. I use billing codes just like you, but I do not determine them and may not always be 100% up to date on any changes that have been made. The master list is the definitive source of truth.”

            A few weeks later:
            “I’ve been using 12345 for goats for the past 2 months, just wanted to make sure that’s right?”
            [I commit sepuku]

              1. Emily K*

                I’ve discussed with my own boss, but this colleague is in totally different department/management chain where the people above him don’t have much if any contact with my department, so it’s more just been for the sake of keeping my own boss appraised of things that are taking up my time and not much my own boss can do about it. I am expecting to be asked to provide 360 feedback in the upcoming annual performance evaluation that the whole company goes through next month, and I’m hoping that will set us on the path to a resolution. I will absolutely be going to their manager to make sure that I’m included in the 360 feedback list for this person if I’m not proactively invited by the manager, but culturally/politically I don’t quite feel empowered to raise it outside of the 360 process so I’ve been waiting for that opportunity.

            1. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

              Ohhhhhh, boy. That’s annoying. My replacement is doing this to my old coworker right now. When she was away one day, they took a peek at her handwritten notes to see if she has been taking notes during her training. And she has. There were notes on how to upload llama articles written down five different times…and yet she’ll still ask the question on how to upload llama articles. Or llama pictures. Or how to handle the translation bills. The irony is the old coworker used to do this to me: Where is this? How do I do that? I know you told me but you always know…

              I suspect that for Emily K’s employee, there’s some sort of anxiety going on there which creates this endless loop of “I just want to make sure.” Because some anxious ppl I know, that’s how it manifests: “Was it right to sell the car?” she asks anxiously and she sold it already four years ago. She still wants assurance four years later it was the right thing to do and she’s already asked me four times before. And all the reassurances, support and affirmations in the world do not help if they don’t recognize the issues and take steps to manage the anxiety.

              But it’s not your problem to fix her anxiety and her anxiety is going to appear as a performance issue in the long run. I used to remind myself my old coworker had poorly managed anxiety and self-esteem issues and to keep breathing to calm myself down and step away from my seppuku blade. Management turned a blind eye and continues to do so; I changed departments and work is much happier.

        2. Jadelyn*

          I really struggle with this – I just have the “it’ll be taken care of faster if I just do it myself” impulse x100, and my desire for efficiency (short-term) is in direct competition with my desire for efficiency (long-term) because we’ll be done with the task faster if I do it now – but then it means I still have to do the task in the future because I didn’t take the time to train someone else on it.

          I’m getting better, but GOD it’s hard to tamp down that impulse to say “Here, I’ll take care of it,” and instead say “Let’s go back to your workstation and I’ll run you through doing it so you can see how it works.”

          Patience: not my strong point.

    9. Holly*

      Why are you giving advice for the original issue, especially advice that contradicts Allison’s, when she’s updating telling us that Allison’s advice went over really well and everyone’s happy?

    10. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I agree that helping each other out whenever possible is a kind thing, and working together cooperatively as a team should be part of everyone’s job requirement. But what the OP described isn’t either of these things, IMO. OP’s co-workers didn’t try to figure out a simple task on their own, and defaulted OP into the role of The Office Fix-It Person. That’s laziness getting forced on someone else, and I’m glad the OP has politely pushed this kind of activity back on the person who should have figured it out on their own.

    11. Karen from Finance*

      This might be beating a dead horse but I just wanted to state that I too disagree with this advice. This is not OP’s situation at all.

    12. Decima Dewey*

      Team work works great until it doesn’t. Until Mr/Ms Fix-It has done umpteen of these fiddly little tasks and is starting to wonder when anyone is going to return the favor. Until the answer isn’t see what the problem is, go get Mr/ Ms. Fix-It. Especially when Mr/Ms Fix-It learned how to do the fiddly little tasks by reading the directions and following them.

    13. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s already done with. It she was experiencing pushback or it was still on going, then sure you could just say “suck it up, be a team.”

      It’s a printer jam in an office. Not a hospital ward where lives are literally at stake. You may be out of touch given the differences here.

    14. Psyche*

      That is true to an extent, but it only works if that help isn’t abused. If someone genuinely needs help, then it would be petty to refuse. If they simply don’t want to deal with it, then saying no is very reasonable.

    15. Emily K*

      The keywords in your phrase being you “all helped out each other.” You didn’t all outsource the menial work you didn’t want to do to a single person whose job was not intended to be a repository for everyone else’s unwanted tasks.

      Being helpful in the workplace is generally a good thing, but not when it starts to interfere with the job you’re being paid to do. Death by a thousand papercuts is a thing.

    16. Jennifer*

      But I’m imagining the issues you deal with at your job are matters of life and death. It’s wonderful that you work so well together and I’m sure the parents of your patients are grateful. Your situation is just very, very different.

      1. anonagain*

        I should think the high stakes of health care would make it even MORE important that you don’t interrupt people who are trying to focus on a task with a frivolous request.

        Can you imagine if a nurse was in the middle of helping get a patient stabilized and someone walked in to ask for help with a paper jam?!

        1. TardyTardis*

          There are things you can do with a syringe and other ER equipment that would *really* discourage that from happening, Ever Again.

  6. Story Nurse*

    #4: I recommend joining the Editorial Freelancers Association and hanging out your shingle in their directory. One gig from their job list or from someone searching their directory will more than recoup your annual membership fee. When I had a part-time job, having a keyword-rich profile on the EFA directory brought in enough freelance editing work to keep the other half of my bills paid, and I didn’t have to go out and hustle for clients, which was my least favorite part of freelancing. I put up an extremely simple website that had testimonials from past clients, listed my rates very clearly, and linked to a sample of my contract; this gave my potential clients confidence that I was a professional who would treat them well. Then I sat back and let the inquiries roll in.

    Of course, the more types of editing you’re willing and able to do, the more clients you’ll get. I mostly edited books for self-published authors, including SF/fantasy, romance, and memoir, but publishers also hired me to edit the captions for a book of fashion photographs, “translate” the descriptions in a how-to-draw book from Australian English to American English, and proofread a book on how to build sheds. The variety was a big part of the fun for me.

    As a bonus, anyone who looks for an editor through the EFA should expect to pay EFA-standard rates, which are pretty decent, so that eliminates a lot of those false starts of “can I pay you $200 to edit my 200,000-word novel”. And maybe I got lucky, but no client I got through the EFA ever stiffed me on a payment. I generally asked for 50% payment up front and only accepted electronic cash transfers—no credit cards—so that helped ensure my clients had the means to pay me.

    Good luck with the freelance life! I went back to working full-time when we started planning to have a child, and that steady income has been extremely good to have as a counterweight to the uncertainties of parenthood. But I do miss the zing of “what will my next project be?”, and the satisfaction of working with people one on one to help make their self-publishing dreams come true. Definitely do enjoy those midday movies and living in your pajamas. That freedom is what makes the challenges of freelancing worthwhile.

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        I too am curious!

        Story Nurse I know it’s a pretty good size ask, but: how did you get started? I don’t have any clients yet for example – is there one way to “break in” that’s better than another?

        1. Story Nurse*

          My trajectory is not necessarily one that’s followable by anyone else, because my parents are writers and I got into science fiction fandom very early in my life. I followed a lot of writers on social media (which was primarily LiveJournal back then!), made friends, and kept my ear out for opportunities. I volunteered with Strange Horizons for a while, which didn’t pay but helped me build my résumé. I edited a friend’s novel for free in exchange for her spreading the word about what a great editor I was (this was risky on multiple levels, but it worked out fine and we stayed friends). I did a lot of freelance writing, finding opportunities much the same way, and one of the publications I wrote for invited me to edit for them. A friend who worked in publishing offered to add me to her company’s copyediting pool as long as I could pass their test, which I did easily. Over time it built up into a career.

          So all I can really say is that the best way to start is just to start. What’s in your life right now that needs an editor? Is there a church newsletter, or a company report? If you’re like me, you’re always editing things in your head anyway, so pursue that and see whether you can edit those things for real. If you plan to make a career of it, taking low-paying or volunteer jobs at first is reasonable, but get out of that as quickly as possible and aim for the jobs that pay the most per hour of your time. (Experience will help you learn which types of editing you can do quickly and which drag on.) Expect some false starts, and when you luck into something great, hold on to it with both hands.

          Best of luck!

    1. pomme de terre*

      Hey, this is great advice! I am anticipating a layoff in the new year and as a recovering copyeditor, will definitely give this a look. It’s been a minute since I’ve done any freelancing so I’m freaked out about my income going to $0 and I think having literally any work and income will be helpful while I job hunt. THANK YOU!

    2. #4*

      Yes, I joined the EFA recently and have a profile up. I also plan to make use of their resources and see if I can add to my skills/services offered. I mostly edit romance, which is hugely indie publishing these days, so if I can offer a package that includes ebook formatting, I’m hopeful that will bring in more authors. But I have some upfront investments to make before I can legitimately start marketing that.

      As for dipping a toe into freelance, I started out as a full-time employed editor for publishers, which gave me the industry cred to hang up a shingle. I found a couple clients through Upwork, but abandoned that platform shortly after they increased the percentage they took out of my fee to 20%. But I still work with a couple clients I found that way, and they are the majority of my income now. I think it was mostly luck that we found each other. A lot of it is connections, which I generally suck at. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the EFA profile will bear fruit.

    3. My Cabbages!!*

      “translate” the descriptions in a how-to-draw book from Australian English to American English

      This has always seemed so fun to me! I watch a lot of BBC and have always wanted to volunteer my services every time they have an “American” character say something like “Have you a pen?”

      1. Story Nurse*

        It was a blast! And halfway through I realized that some chunks of description had been cribbed from Wikipedia, so I alerted the publisher and they were VERY grateful.

      2. Beehoppy*

        I am literally in the middle of editing/”translating” and Australian teachers guide for a school recycling project that involves building a “rubbish bin”.

  7. Augusta Sugarbean*

    #2 Then as of this moment, you’re on double secret promotion! OP, I’m glad your were able to move on to bigger and better things!

  8. misspiggy*

    For OP4, get in touch with several nonprofits’ publishing/communications people. They often need editors who can make research clear and palatable for non-expert audiences.

  9. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #5 – I am choosing to believe that someone from her company saw your AAM letter and recognized the situation.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I thought of this recently when I learned you can buy “fart spray”. Someone used it and glitter to make a package-theft vengeance device.

  10. Flash Bristow*

    OP2, sympathies that after all the consideration and effort you put into your new role, that it was kept secret(!! How can you manage people who don’t know that you have the authority to do so?), that it didn’t come with a raise (“I know! Let’s pretend to OP2 that she’ll get extra money, and use her to cover this busy period! Ho ho!) and that you subsequently had the rug pulled from under you (-twice?!!)

    I’m glad you’re out of there, even if you haven’t found The Perfect Job. After all, few of us do! At least you’ve escaped, and hopefully picked up knowledge along the way – even if it’s just knowledge of what shitty management looks like.

    Good luck for the future!

  11. Flash Bristow*

    Alison, some of these updates remind me – and this is not aimed at anyone in particular – how do you feel when people say that they didn’t follow your advice, or didn’t need to? Is it frustration that you put your time into helping them and it was ignored? Or, where they’ve moved on so the advice simply became moot, do you feel glad that they are out of the situation – by hook or by crook?

    I’ve often pondered this, I think I know how I’d feel, but I might be able to take it less personally if I was paid for my views whether or not they were used.

    I’d be very interested to hear, if you’d sate my curiosity!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Not Alison, obviously, but she has said in the past that she doesn’t get up in arms about the possibility of a letter being fake because the advice may still be useful for someone reading, so I would guess this is a similar thing. She mentioned being sick, so I’m not sure how much she’ll be reading the comments.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Also, we get a couple of paragraphs about the letter writer’s situation, which doesn’t always cover everything. How many letter writers come into the comment section to clarify things, or start an update with “I probably should have mentioned that…”?

        Alison gives the best advice she can with the information she’s given (and it’s usually great advice!), but it’s inevitable that it won’t turn out to be workable for all the letters.

    2. alex*

      Meh IMO published advice columns aren’t for the LWs but for all the readers
      (though updates that are like, “it all ended up being irrelevant anyway” are a bit disappointing)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I enjoy even those, as part of the grand panoply of possible outcomes. “I took your advice, the other person said the correct lines, and everything worked out” would be both boring and not really reflective of how life often works, where minor and major problems can switch around on you.

        For example, sometimes management actually was aware and in the process of fixing the problem. Sometimes that’s enough, and sometimes The Problem Is A Metaphor for all the deeply crappy/crazy/incompetent stuff going on in that office, and removing this specific Jane In The Shared Bathroom flavor is just going to allow Strawberry Pecan Surprise with Two Ferguses to rise to the fore in its place.

      2. mr. brightside*

        Sometimes complaining about something and asking for help from a friend is a magical way to make sure it never actually happens again (similar to when you give up and ask for help on a technical matter, it’s magically fixed). This has happened to me a few times, when I’ve gotten so fed up with someone else’s behavior that I crowd source wtf to do about it… and then that person spontaneously decides to stop doing The Thing.

        Of course, there’s millions of other times when this DOESN’T work, but in the times that it has, it’s been nice!

        1. Beth*

          Speaking as an IT person — we know all about the computer problem that disappears when we look at the computer. We also know that yes, the problem was real. We don’t think badly of you.

          In my own case, I’m probably making a note: “Computer oozed lava when Mr. Brightside opened Word. Lava disappeared when I approached computer. Check system error logs and make note in preparation for next appearance of lava on this or another computer.”

    3. Antilles*

      Not Alison, but here’s where I fall:
      1.) Situations are rarely completely unique. So even if the advice didn’t directly help OP, odds are that someone else reading has/will have a similar situation and it can help them.
      2.) There can be lessons learned even if the OP didn’t follow Alison’s advice. If they did Y instead of X and it worked out, maybe that’s a strategy others should consider in the future. If the situation changed in an unexpected way, maybe that’s a lesson of how not all situations require action.
      3.) For readers, the updates kind of seem like more of a bonus. Most advice columnists rarely (if ever) get updates to post, so even if the result is “well, the situation completely changed and I didn’t have the chance to do anything”, that’s still more than advice column readers normally get.
      That said, I’m sure the rare updates where the update seems like LW completely dismissed what Alison was saying (e.g., the Leap Birthday boss from a few weeks ago) have to be at least a little frustrating. It’s one thing to understand the advice and opt to choose another path, but it’s odd to ask an advice columnist for help and then not even attempt to understand the response you get.

  12. Jen*

    The way OP2 was treated makes me so mad. They likely never had any real intention to actually give her the money and title that she had deserved for so long. This is just a basic abuse tactic and one I have seen so many friends fall for from both companies and people, dangling promises and then never, ever delivering, usually in a “it’s your fault” pretext. Someone with a psychology background probably can supply a direct name for this.

    This is never okay. Never agree to anything like this, not a significant other who dangles some benefit (like marriage or kids), not a job who dangles “just keep working here for minimum wage and we will make you full time and give you benefits if you are very very good”. The benefit will never come, or if itmcomes they will continue to demand and gaslight. Know your worth and demand it.

    1. XF1013*

      I agree completely. I was jerked around early in my career in a similar fashion, always promised raises and promotions once I had met certain milestones, only for excuses to materialize when the time came to reward me. I came to feel like Charlie Brown, always falling for Lucy’s promise to hold the football. The worst part is that the manager thought he was being motivational this way! He sincerely believed that once somebody gets a comfortable salary, they lose all motivation to work hard, so his strategy was to promise raises but never give them. All he did was destroy everyone’s morale and tank that division of the company. I got out years ago, but I hear from friends there that he still hasn’t learned a thing.

      Just recently I was offered a promotion at my current company, taking over my whole department with a lot more responsibility. Zero pay increase now. Promises of a pay increase of an unspecified amount at some unspecified date next year. No back pay. The managers were surprised and offended that I declined! I don’t believe they had malicious intent; they seemed to think that they were offering me a good deal. But I’ll never accept this kind of “promotion” again. If you don’t get paid more, or you don’t get a title change or announcement, or you don’t get actual authority, then it’s not really a promotion, and it’s not likely to turn out well.

      1. mr. brightside*

        +1 to all of this. If they pile more work on you, but don’t give you a pay raise… that’s great for them. It’s not great for YOU.

        1. 653-CXK*

          Whenever a company uses a tactic like this, it’s because they don’t want to go through the proper channels of giving someone more responsibility and the bureacracy that goes with it (paperwork, title change, pay increase, moving to another office, etc). All that extra work they give you without the benefit of a pay raise costs them nothing.

      2. WellRed*

        Good for you, saying no. It’s like they think your gratitude for getting the promotion is all you n $$$$d.

      3. TardyTardis*

        This happened to my dad waaay back in the day–they wanted him to be official boss of the yard office (railroad) for $30 more a month and lots more responsibility. He said no (but they didn’t dare close the office that he was, in fact, running–he had enough seniority to bounce 90% of the Albina office if they left him high and dry, and he was ornery enough to do it if they miffed him off enough).

    2. Decima Dewey*

      It’s true that promotions may not work out. The way it works in civil service is that you get the promotion, everyone knows it, and you have a probationary period (6 months). If you mess up during the probationary period, they take the promotion away and go you go back to your previous slot (although probably not in the same department), where you have permanent status. If you make it through your probationary period, the promotion is permanent. They can still take away the promotion if you mess up badly enough after the probationary period, but it takes time and paperwork on the part of your superiors and HR.

  13. EPLawyer*

    #4 — I work from home so I understand how the lack of human contact can be bothersome. I’m an introvert so not THAT much of a problem for me. But the joy of freelancing is you can schedule your time how you want. So schedule lunches with friends. You can work later in the evening to make up the time it takes to travel. Join email lists or Facebook groups in your field so you have someone to bounce ideas off of. I also have a couple of solo attorneys who we keep Gchat up and chat as necessary during the day (OMG did you see Miley Cyrus got married type of stuff) which satisfies the water cooler chat need.

    It’s great being freelance so you can balance your need to work with need for socialization however works best for you. And you can go grocery shopping when the store isn’t crowded, go to a movie in the middle of the day, etc.

    1. BadWolf*

      I’m a shy introvert, so I like going to work so I don’t entirely become a hermit!!

      For OP4, maybe check out if there’s a local coworking space (basically a drop-in for anyone office). We have one in town and I believe they have several options — a daily drop-in price, once a week, everyday, dedicated desk, etc.

    2. #4*

      Yeah, I have a core group of friends that gets together every couple of weeks. We’re all pretty flexible with our time, which makes it possible. So that helps a lot. I head out to the library or the coffee shop frequently, as well, depending on my mood and just how seriously the deadline is looming, and one of those previously mentioned friends will often join me (or I her), so we have our non-conversational introvert “study date.” It works.

      I live in a fairly rural area, so co-working spaces don’t exist here and wouldn’t be worth paying for at my current income level.

  14. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP#1–Good for you! Learning to say no is so hard and you are doing great.

  15. Falling Diphthong*

    #2: My manager told me to keep the promotion a secret from everyone.

    Nopety nope nope. I realize this is easy hindsight, but for all the younger #2s out there thinking maybe this is industry standard: it’s not.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes! Run, always, when offered secret promotions. (Also, from relationship partners that want to keep it secret–a topic for a whole different blog ; ).

    2. Observer*

      This is true. It’s not standard. And it’s a sign of bad faith. ESPECIALLY when the role is one that actually requires you to manage people. You cannot manage people who don’t know that you have that authority.

  16. Jaybeetee*

    LW1: Good lesson! As is often discussed, women are often socialized to be helpful and accommodating, even to their own detriment. Moreover, people who are new to working are often advised to “be indispensable”, always willing to pitch in and help out, etc etc. (See the comment above about “being a team player”), and that this will lead to recognition in various ways. Unfortunately, just as often as a manager goes “You know, Jane does great work and she’s always enthusiastic, proactive, and helping others – I think she should be promoted!”, managers and colleagues don’t think that far and just go “Give it to Jane, she’ll say yes.” It can be challenging to strike that balance where you’re not being standoffish and unhelpful, but you’re also not doing other peoples’ grunt tasks to the detriment of your own work/sanity.

    Also, I, too, had a stint as an Office Printer Lady. Our printer had a scanner that emailed PDFs, and for some reason I was one of the only ones who apparently knew how to program people’s emails into the damn thing. How did I know how to do that? By… reading the prompts on the screen. I also learned how to Google common software issues, making me an Office IT guru as well.

    LW2: I imagine this got covered in the original letter, but how does one even spend an hour on makeup?? I rarely wear makeup, but when I do, it’s close to the full deal – concealer(s), foundation, lipstick, eyeshadow, mascara. (I skip blush because I’m pale and it’s hard to not look like a clown when I do it). Probably takes me 10 minutes tops. Even adding in brighteners, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, lip liner, gloss, eyelash curling, etc., I’m picturing like 20 minutes. The only context where I’ve heard of an hour+ makeup routine are like Hollywood actors who need to look like Orcs.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      I’m a beginner make-up artist on the side. For Christmas dinner, I was ecstatic that it ONLY took me 30 min to do my “full face” of makeup. It usually takes me 1-2 hours for an evening look, even if it’s a “no makeup” makeup. How on earth do you do all those steps in 10 minutes?! In 10 minutes I barely manage eyeliner, mascara, eyebrows and chapstick.

      What I imagine for a 1-hour work-make-up routine would probably involve the use of several eyeshadows, and fake lashes. If she does an elaborate eyeliner (gel or liquid), that adds time in too. And she probably does some contouring.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          A whole makeup look goes (in general):
          Skincare (cleanser, toner, moisturizer, lip scrub, lip balm, eye cream). Primer. Concealer and color correcting. Sealing with powder. Contouring. Blush. Highlighting. Lip liner. Lipstick. Eyebrows. Priming eyelids. Eyeshadow/s or varying complexity. Eyeliner. Eyelash curler. Mascara. Fake lashes. Setting spray.

          If you take 2.5 minutes per step stated above (counting “eyeshadows” as one step), it’s a full hour.

          As I said my everyday look is eyeliner, brows, mascara and liquid lipstick and it takes me about 10 minutes because I’m very careful with my gel/liquid liner, yes.

    2. ket*

      Honestly, I think some people just move more slowly while doing the makeup. It’s the difference between lining the lip and gently filling in the sides, then the middle of the lower lip for fullness, maybe with a different color, and checking the edges, touching up a bit on the side again, looking at it to see if it’s right, then blotting, then reaching for the gloss….

      or just swipe, swipe, swipe, looks decent, done!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      All my makeup friends take 45-60 minutes. They have a big spread and it includes more than just a few swipes and dabs.

      I’m the 20 minutes tops girl as well. But watching them do theirs, yes, it’s no exaggeration it takes up to an hour. I always know it’ll take time and to budget for it, even if we’re just going to a movie.

      It includes moisturizing and toners and three different mascaras, three carefully applied and styled shadows, etc.

        1. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

          Yeah. I spend time bird-watching and doing crossword puzzles, which is at least as “unproductive” as makeup, since when I finish a puzzle I throw it away. It’s entirely about enjoying spending the time.

    4. Sally*

      I can usually get all of my makeup done in about 10 minutes, but even so, I don’t do it at home because even those 10 minutes will put me in horrendous traffic. But after putting it on in the bathroom at the office a couple of times, I started doing it in my car in the parking garage before I go in. It’s just too embarrassing for me to be “caught” putting on my makeup at work.

    5. nnn*

      Mine takes me exactly 8 minutes when everything works out right the first time. The problem is it doesn’t always work out, and sometimes I have to fix or redo aspects, which means in practical terms it can take up to half an hour (and that’s at home, where I already have my kit all spread out and arranged so I know right where everything is. It takes way longer when I’m working out of a makeup bag)

      Same with my hair. It takes less than a minute if it works out right the first time, but can take up to half an hour of redoing when things don’t work out as intended.

      And yes, I’m a grown-ass adult who has been doing my hair and makeup for decades. It still doesn’t work out right the first time.

  17. Lisette*

    OP #3, IANAL, but here is my experience on the other end of this for what it is worth. My employer (in the US) uses contracts for certain staff that stipulate 30-90 day required notice periods. When a high level/difficult to replace person resigns with the standard two weeks, we sometimes send a threatening letter asking that they comply with their contract. We have never taken action further than that, and we have been advised by our lawyers that we have no legal recourse. We have never taken anyone to court over not providing the notice stipulated in their contract.

    1. Melody*

      One thing I could add about contract law is that there must be reasonable expectations. For example, if you sell someone a 1992 Ford Tempo for $22,000 with a 300% interest rate, and they fail to make all the payments, they may not be on the hook, as the contract isn’t reasonable. Obviously it would be up to a judge or jury to come in and make that determination, as the term “reasonable” is relative.
      A 60 day notice period may not be considered reasonable in this field of work, and that is likely why the lawyer has said there is no legal recourse.

  18. Beth*

    LW2: SO sorry you got shafted like that! I had to learn the same lesson in the same bitter manner. If you aren’t getting valued right where you are, you are NOT going to get it all back in some mysterious and hoped-for future. You have to move on and find someone who WILL value you.

    Or, put another way, the people who allow you to get screwed over today will certainly be there for you tomorrow — and they’ll let you get screwed over again, and probably join in.

  19. OP #1*

    I just wanted to say thanks to all the original comments on my letter, and on this update! I’m thrilled that the issue is no longer an issue, and I am thus no longer the office printer.

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